Warning. Do not accept Facebook friend requests that come from beyond the grave. Especially not when the request is from someone you’ve wronged. But of course, if single mother Louise Williams had taken this advice, we wouldn’t have the page-turner that is Friend Request.
Curiosity gets the better of Louise one night and she accepts a Facebook request from Maria Weston – a girl from high school she hasn’t seen in 25 years. Seems fair enough – loads of people reconnect with old schoolmates on social media, right? Including people they thought they’d never see again. But Maria disappeared forever on the night of the leaver’s party, presumed drowned. Louise thinks Maria’s death was all her fault, due to the part she played in a vicious bullying scheme.
But what really happened that night?
Is Maria still alive? If she has been alive all this time, why has she waited until now to make contact with Louise? And if she’s not alive, then who else knows what really happened, and how far are they prepared to go to avenge Maria?
I first became aware of Laura Marshall’s gripping domestic thriller when it was shortlisted for the Bath Novel Award 2016. After reading the excerpt, I had to know the real reasons behind Maria’s mysterious request, and was pleased to see the novel was being published this year.
The narrative alternates between the present day and Louise’s last year of high school in 1989. Louise is so desperate to be liked by cool girl Sophie Hannigan, and her crush, Sam Parker that she is willing to do whatever it takes to be popular, including rebuking Maria’s friendship and taking illicit drugs. Laura Marshall adeptly conveys the desire to fit-in and the loneliness of being on the outside, describing the unpopular girls sitting alone at lunch with their untouched food, staring unseeing at the book in front of them.
The suspense increases when Maria’s messages turn ominous and Louise becomes paranoid that someone is following her, playing on her guilt about her involvement in Maria’s demise. She’s prepared to go to great lengths to stop the truth from coming out, focused on protecting her much-loved young son, Henry. But this becomes increasingly difficult when someone is murdered at the high school reunion and the police start asking questions.
As a fan of traditional whodunit mysteries, I sometimes mourn how modern technology has made mystery writing more challenging. Secret, lost letters are now easy-to-find emails. Mobile phones make it less difficult for characters to get themselves out of danger and trickier for writers to think of ways to put their protagonist into suspenseful, inescapable situations. However, Laura Marshall has used this to her advantage by crafting a mystery that explores how these advancements, particularly social media, have presented predators with new and inventive ways to target victims – terrifying possibilities that could never have been explored in an Agatha Christie novel.
Friend Request is also a reminder that people’s lives on social media are not necessarily an accurate representation of reality. At one point in the story, Louise reflects on a school mother using Facebook to share too much personal information about her relationship break up.
I’m amazed by the extent to which some people live out their lives on here. This woman doesn’t even say hello to me on the rare occasions I see her at the school gate, yet I know all the gory intimacies of her love life.
And even more dangerously, sometimes people are not at all who they say they are.
Friend Request by Laura Marshall is published in Australia by Hachette. I won an advanced reader copy from Hachette Australia, which forms the basis of this review.